It has been one year since the U.S. Dressage Team won the team silver medal at the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru. Three of the four individuals named to the team are competing at the 2020 U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions: Nora Batchelder, Sarah Lockman, and Endel Ots. US Equestrian asked them to take a look back at the Pan American Games and share how those experiences have affected their plans for the future.
Lockman had a stellar team debut at the Pan American Games with First Apple, earning the individual gold medal. She and Summit Farm’s 10-year-old Dutch Warmblood stallion had only begun their partnership eight months prior to the Pan American Games, but they had no problem shining at a major championship.
“The timing just worked out perfectly at the Pan Ams that [Apple] and I really came together very quickly, so it was possible for us to make the Pan Am team,” said Lockman
Lockman’s Pan American Games experience was memorable, to say the least. “It definitely was a life-changing week for me over there,” explained Lockman. Her hard work over the years came to fruition in an exciting fashion. She felt that she had been set up for success with the help of US Equestrian and her supporters, even down to details like her preferred food for the occasion.
“I’m kind of a weirdo and one of the things I like to have before a big competition is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I was like, ‘I could really use a peanut butter and jelly sandwich,’ and then [snap], there it was,” Lockman said with a laugh. “Stuff like that they went above and beyond to make sure we were comfortable and ready.”
The feeling of support also came from her teammates. Having never been on a team, the newfound camaraderie added to the Pan American Games experience. “With Endel, Nora, [Jennifer Baumert], and I, we are now lifelong friends,” said Lockman. “It was so cool to go through something so important in our careers together. It was all of our first time being on a team, so that was really even more special for all of us.”
Lockman’s Pan American Games experience left her thrilled and thankful, but hungry for more. With Pan American gold on her resume, she is ready for the next challenge.
“For me, my lifelong goal since I was a kid was to be on an Olympic team and represent the United States, so I got a little taste of that with the Pan Ams,” said Lockman. “I think it helped my confidence and, hopefully, the country’s confidence in me being able to be an anchor rider in my first time being on a team. I hope to repeat that process very soon.”
Batchelder’s Pan American Games experience was a spectacular one with her earning a medal in her team debut with Faro SQF, a 12-year-old Hanoverian gelding she owns with Andrea Whitcomb. The surreal series of events still make an impression on her today.
“Looking back, I feel incredibly fortunate to have gotten to go. That was pretty amazing. Definitely the highlight of my career so far,” said Batchelder.
The Pan American Games experience began before the team left for Lima. Batchelder competed at the East Coast qualifying competitions alongside Ots and Baumert, so she had already begun to get to know them before being named to the team with them.
“Our training camp week with Charlotte [Bredahl, USEF Dressage Development Coach] was awesome. We all really enjoyed that,” said Batchelder. “Getting to work with Debbie [McDonald, USEF Dressage Chef d’Equipe & Technical Advisor] and the whole Pan American Games atmosphere and being there with all the horses from the different disciplines and everything was really amazing. I think we really enjoyed it in the moment, but looking back it is even more special. We want to go again!”
The experience has her thinking of loftier goals for the future. Batchelder competed at the Grand Prix level with Faro SQF during the winter season in Wellington and hopes to continue competing at the level this fall and next winter. She also has her sights on sights set on being on more teams for the U.S.
“It is a really big goal,” Batchelder said of being on future teams. “I have some exciting young horses who I am hoping for. Charlotte Bredahl sent us a note that said, ‘The Olympics are in the U.S. in eight years, so be thinking about that with your four-year-olds.’ I definitely have that in the back of my mind with some of the babies I have coming up.”
Ots did not have the Pan American Games experience he hoped for due to Lucky Strike sustaining injuries during the transport before flying out to Lima. The 10-year-old Hanoverian gelding owned by Max Ots made a full recovery and went on to claim the 2019 USEF Intermediaire I Dressage National Championship, but he was no longer ready to make the trip to the Pan American Games. While Lucky Strike rested at home, Ots made the trip to Lima to support his teammates whom he had grown close to during the team’s final preparations.
“I loved the experience. I loved getting to know the team members,” said Ots. “A lot of times at horse shows, they are your competitors, so it is really nice to feel a nice family feeling. When I got to see them at the shows before [COVID], I would give them a hug. That is what I really loved about it.”
Ots’s experience in Lima gave him a glimpse of his plans for the future. He has had numerous top results and competed at the FEI World Breeding Championships for Dressage Young Horses, and he hopes to add more major championships to his resume in coming years.
“It really just showed me that that is absolutely what I want to do. I really want to continue to be on teams and continue to represent the United States,” explained Ots.“It just showed me that I want to do it again and again until I can’t do it anymore and they drag me out of there. That’s what I want to do. The whole experience was great.”
With team competitions and major championships come numerous details to figure out, which can be quite stressful. The new experience can be intimidating at first, but Ots is ready for the challenge.
“There is a lot of stress, but positive stress—planning and organizing, organizing your clients and your horse, and making sure everything works in the best way,” noted Ots. “I have spoken to some people from previous years who have said, ‘It was a little too much stress for me,’ but I love it. I feel the most alive in the dressage arena.”
While Baumert isn’t attending the U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions this year, she is cheering on her teammates from home by watching the live stream on the USEF Network. “I am so sad that I am not there this year. I feel like I am missing out on a little reunion,” said Baumert.
Baumert and Handsome, Betsy Juliano LLC’s 15-year-old Hanoverian gelding, had an excellent team debut at the Pan American Games, winning the individual bronze medal. Continuing the momentum, Baumert and Handsome are working on grand prix movements in preparation for competitions in the future. “I do expect he will be able to compete at Grand Prix, but he is 15 this year so I am really not sure in terms of what the future holds for him, “said Baumert. “I couldn’t ask for anything more from that horse, yet he keeps giving me more. Both Betsy and I are interested in developing him to his fullest potential, but also keeping him the sound happy horse that he has always been.”
Baumert reiterated the life-changing qualities of the Pan American Games shared by Lockman, Batchelder, and Ots. “I always thought it would be a special experience, but it was quite a special feeling to represent our country and to be with such fine people as Endel, Nora, and Sarah and building what I am sure will be a lifelong bond and an experience that we all are going to remember forever,” said Baumert.
One experience of a lifetime was spectacular, but Baumert would love to have other chances in the future. “After Pan Ams, it was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I want to do that again!’ It definitely was very motivating. Hopefully it will be an opportunity that I can have that awesome honor again. Honestly, it was like an alternate reality for two to three weeks. The whole team was amazing—the folks from the USEF, all the support, everyone was fabulous.”